After losing to No. 19 Kentucky in straight sets this past weekend, the Lady Vols volleyball team (8-9, 0-3 SEC) is looking to rebound in a pair of matches this weekend against some tough SEC opponents.
Head coach Rob Patrick is impressed with the aggression shown by the team, but is also focusing on finding more order on the court.
"Offensively, we're being more consistent with our hitting," Patrick said. "You know, that's something we were making a lot of unforced errors on at the beginning of the year, and we're really getting better at keeping the ball in play, making some smart plays, so I've been really happy with that.
"The biggest thing that we want to do is continue to get more organized on the court. We're unorganized, a little bit more than normal, and there's a reason for it. We have some players playing out of position because of injuries, so we've had to move players that are playing brand new positions that they've never played before, so we're trying to get them to learn the position."
The Lady Vols will start off the weekend against the No. 25 Missouri Tigers, who remain as one of the three unbeaten teams in the SEC with a record of 19-0.
The Tigers lead the nation in hitting percentage with a .387 success rate – a stat that is .038 percent better than Florida, who is second in the nation – and Patrick continues to prepare his team for what he anticipates to be a challenging game.
"We're going to have to try and slow them down and maybe frustrate them a little bit," Patrick said. "(We have to) try and get them off balance with our serving and hopefully just be really aggressive offensively and get some kills."
Lexi Dempsey, a sophomore transfer that came to Tennessee from the University of Portland, had 25 assists last week and recorded a team-best of 10 digs.
"I think if we play as a team, we'll be able to do really well," Dempsey said. "Our goal is always to win, so I think if we have fun and we play really hard we'll do well."
Dempsey knows that the upcoming matches won't be easy with Missouri and Arkansas coming into town, but she continues to follow the example of the team's leading passers, and thinks they are capable of leading the Lady Vols to victory.
"Even though we had a rough week in passing last week, I think our passers are incredible," Dempsey said. "They really hold the team together, and they're able to handle all the pressures that comes with being the defensive specialists and libero."
Senior Ellen Mullins leads the nation in digs per set (6.02), and feels that the team's recent exposure to opposing SEC teams has helped prepare the Lady Vols for the upcoming matches.
"Teams have put a lot of pressure on us with their serve," Mullins said. "We've been having difficulty passing the ball, so we've just been coming into practice trying to work on those things, putting the pressure on ourselves and having our servers put the pressure on us to pass the ball."
One thing that Patrick feels would drive the Lady Vols to a win this weekend is a great student turnout inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
"Our players love playing in front of big crowds," Patrick said. "They love when their fellow students come out and support them."
The Lady Vols matchup against Missouri begins at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and the Arkansas match is set to start at 1 p.m. on Sunday.